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M Night Shyamalan – Successful Indian in Hollywood

M Night Shyamalan

M Night Shyamalan

Being compared to the famous sci-fi Hollywood Director, Steven Spielberg, M Night Shyamalan has come a long way since his first movie, ‘Praying with Anger(1992)’. His lastest venture, ‘The Happening’ has hit the movie theaters in India this week. Having done well abroad, one must wait and watch how this movie will fare in India.

Writer as well as director of most of the supernatural thriller English movies like The Sixth Sense(1999), Unbreakable(2000), Signs(2002) etc., Shymalan was born in India but bought up in an affluent Main Lane Suburb of Penn Valley, Philadelphia.

Starting out

In his childhood, he was gifted a Super-8 camera and the seeds of desire to become a filmaker was planted. Shyamalan graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, in Manhattan. Like every Indian parents, his father wanted him to pursue a career in Medicines, but his mother supported him to follow his true calling.

In 1992, while still studying in NYU, he made his first movie borrowing money from family and friends. This movie, Praying with Anger was screened at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival that year.

The film was a late entry, but the festival’s programmers were impressed by this debut feature by a young filmmaker in his twenties. One of them (late David Overbey ) introduced Shyamalan and glowingly said something like ‘Watch this young man.He’s going places and you’ll be seeing a lot more of him’.

His  Movies

Praying with Anger (1992)

The film is about a teenager, born in India but raised in the US, who goes to his birthplace for a long visit and experiences major culture shock. He sees various aspects of local life with his American eyes, from trivial things to matters of life and death, and the film shows his bemusement while doing a good job of communicating the thoughts of the local characters.

After the screening, an audience member asked Shyamalan how autobiographical the film was. He replied that he had indeed taken the same kind of journey, but that the movie was definitely fictional. Another question from the audience was how much the movie had cost to make. His answer was ‘About a million. He didn’t say where the money came from, but clearly someone took a chance on this talented young filmmaker.

Wide Awake (1998)

The story of the film revolves around a little boy named Joshua who seeks to find God in order to ensure his dead grandfather is safe. Ten-year-old Josh is Catholic and an unflinching believer in his faith until the death of his beloved grandfather. Suddenly all Josh has been raised to believe in is thrown into turmoil as he finds his faith seriously called into question. He begins to wonder why God allows so much bad to exist in the world and, more importantly, what happened to his grandfather following his death.
The film is not just a story of faith but also of growing up and realizing the world is not a simple place with absolutes, rather things may not always be what they seem. The ending, like ‘Sixth Sense’ does have a great twist that works so well and will leave even the hard-hearted feeling warm.

Joseph Cross, as Josh, and Timothy Reifsnyder, as his best friend Dave, were able to carry the film at a first-rate level despite being so young. Cross portrayed Josh’s innocence, his disenchantment with God, his love for his friends and family and the joy at his end revelation with the proficiency of a professional triple his age. His touching performances brought heart to the story. The adult actors in supporting roles, with Dana Delany and Denis Leary as Josh’s parents and Rosie O’Donnell as the nun teacher, were decent yet understated as they, quite rightly, let the child actors shine.

Sixth Sense (1999)

The Sixth Sense is the story of a child psychologist,Malcolm(Bruce Willis) whose young patient, Cole Sear(Haley Joel Osmet)can see dead people. The child is living in a trauma of fear, and is a self destructive recluse. He lives with his mother Lynn Sear(Toni Collette)who has a tough time understanding the boy and is struggling to make ends meet. So, he keeps his visions of ghosts a secret from her. Cole presents a challenging case for even as gifted a therapist as Malcolm, but the challenge is greater than just unraveling the mystery of Cole’s psychology and spirit.

This movie got Oscar nominations for Best Picture Directing, Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Haley Joel Osmet), Best Supporting Actress (Toni Collette) and Film Editing.

Unbreakable (2000)

The story takes place in Philadelphia and stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. The movie is about a man coming to the realization that he has powers and abilities above and beyond those of his fellows. Willis plays David Dunne, a Franklin Field security guard on his way from New York to Philadelphia by train. A horrible accident en route leaves 131 dead and only one survivor – David, who is not only alive, but doesn’t have a scratch on his body. Soon thereafter, David meets Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book art dealer who thinks he has an explanation for David’s miraculous survival.

Elijah believes that David is a real-life superhero – his body is stronger and more resilient than that of other humans and he possesses certain, as-yet untapped special abilities. Elijah makes it his purpose to convince David to accept what he is. Meanwhile, David’s son (Spencer Treat Clark) is thrilled with the possibility that his dad might be like someone out of a comic book, but his wife, Audrey (Robin Wright Penn), is just interested in patching up a threadbare marriage. However, even as David begins to accept that Elijah might be correct, he discovers that, like all superheroes, he has a fatal weakness.

Signs (2002)

This is a story of the Hess family in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who wakes up one morning to find a 500-foot crop circle in their backyard. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) and his family are told extraterrestrials are responsible for the sign in their field. They watch, with growing dread, the news of crop circles being found all over the world. Signs is the emotional story of one family on one farm as they encounter the terrifying last moments of life as the world is being invaded.

Shyamalan injects subtle humor into expertly spooky scenes, but the story suffers from too many lapses in logic. The film’s faults are greatly compensated by the performance of Mel Gibson as a widower whose own crisis of faith coincides with the appearance of mysterious crop circles in his Pennsylvania cornfield and hundreds of UFOs around the globe. With his brother (Joaquin Phoenix) and two young children (Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin), the lapsed minister perceives this phenomenal occurrence as a series of signs and portents, while Shyamalan pursues a spookfest with War of the Worlds overtones.

The Village (2004)

The movie shows a small settlement created in the woods of Pennsylvania in the year of 1897 by a group of elders in a small clearing. As the settlement grows, they retreat from rest of the world because of monstrous creatures that inhabit the woods surrounding them. These vicious creatures, ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’, never enter the village unless provoked and the villagers never enter the woods. The towns that the original settlers are from is a far, far distance through the forest, and the Villagers can consider themselves completely isolated.

But as time passes, there is no medicines anymore in stock to anoint the sick. So the villagers decide to set forth through the forest. The movie stars Joaquin Phoenix Lucius Hunt, a thoughtful, troubled young man who wants to see the rest of the world. Bryce Dallas Howard plays the role of a love interest Ivy Walker, the blind and kind girl protected by her father (William Hurt’s leading elder Edward Walker). Adrien Brody is an autistic Noah Percy who practically steals the show with his daring and needy innocence.

The Lady in the Water (2006)

The story begins when Cleveland Heep, a stuttering apartment superintendent, encounters a girl named Story swimming in the complex’s pool. The girl is a Narf called Story, a character of bedtime stories. She is here to motivate a great writer to complete his work that will have a tremendous positive affect on the future. Then a giant eagle will come and take her home, but there is a creature called a Scrunt who will try to kill her before she can complete her task.

Mr. Heep believes himself to be her ‘guardian’ or protector, the one who can protect her from the Scrunt. In a first tense, then very light moment, Mr. Heep, being coached by Story via walkie talkie, tries to face down and battle the Scrunt, it soon becomes apparent he is not the guardian when the Scrunt attacks him but the attack is interrupted by the arrogant movie critic just in the nick of time.

This movie didn’t get a good response from the audience. In fact, it has got the ‘Razzie’ award for ‘Worst Director’ and ‘Worst Supporting actor’ and nominated for ‘Worst Screen play’ in 2006.

The Happening (2008)

With the failure of the previous movie, Shyamalan attempts once again with his new offering – ‘The happening’, which released in India last Friday. The movie seems to be a lightning-paced, heart-pounding paranoid thriller about a family on the run from an inexplicable and unstoppable event that threatens not only humankind… but the most basic human instinct of them all: survival.

Hopefully, we can expect the same thrill and fear-factor that kept us glued to our seats during ‘Sixth Sense’ with this movie!